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What's bred in the bone by Robertson…
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What's bred in the bone (original 1985; edition 1985)

by Robertson Davies

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1,405175,395 (4.07)1 / 45
Member:jjon
Title:What's bred in the bone
Authors:Robertson Davies
Info:New York, N.Y. : Penguin, 1986, c1985.
Collections:Your library
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What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (1985)

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(one of 24 books found today at 2nd hand shop...24 for $10!)
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is excerpted from my review of the entire Cornish trilogy
In the second novel of the trilogy, Davies steps back to explore (with the aid of the daimon Maimas and the Lesser Zadakiel, the Angel of Biography), the life of Francis Cornish from his beginnings in a remote and backwards logging town to his time in Europe before, during, and after the Second World War, and his subsequent return to Canada. It is a story of a child learning to understand his world and its secrets, largely on his own, and largely through drawing; of a young man who is introduced to secrets of other kinds, artistic and otherwise, while suffering from discovering some of the secrets of love. Again, we the see the transformation of material objects, from paintings that are mediocre to ones that are better, to an exchange for something still better, and we see Francis's transformation into an artist and a lover, both, however, briefly. And, again, we see Davies' wit and humor, and his penetrating psychological and mystical insight
  rebeccanyc | Jul 14, 2012 |
Possibly Robertson Davies's finest work, offering a fascinating amalgam of forger's handbook, spy novel and potted history of early twentieth century Canada.
In effect the novel represents a biography of Francis Cornish, the news of whose death came at the start of "The Rebel Angels". Although he grew up in Blairlogie, generally thought of as "the Jumping Off Point" in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, he was no simple country boy. Left largely to his own devices as his parents relocated to Ottawa, he spent much of his childhood learning to draw, assisted by lowly servant Zadok Hoyle who in addition to managing the family's stables also acts as embalmer for the village. His friendship with Hoyle gives Francis access to the corpses that the embalmer prepares for their funerary rites, which in turn yields great dividends in Francis's artistic skills.
After studying at Toronto and Oxford universities, Francis is recruited as a very junior player in the British Secret Service. Meanwhile he becomes apprenticed to the world-renowned art restorer, Tancred Saraceni from whom he learns a multitude of skills, some more legitimate than others. Acquaintance with Saraceni offers a solid springboard from which to establish himself as a leading figure in the post-war art world, which Francis duly achieves, though at the same time he sinks into the life of a recluse.
Throughout the novel we are given startling insights into his psyche from his personal daimon who has supervised his life's passage.
A dazzling novel bursting with ideas. ( )
2 vote Eyejaybee | Aug 30, 2011 |
Robertson Davies has been my discovery of the year. These books are unlike anything else I've ever read, but as I read them I realise they are exactly what I've been wanting to read all my life. Not merely entertaining, not just scholarly, they are in fact the very best of both, combined with exploration and discovery that hardly ever flags.

When we read Rebel Angels, book 1 in this awesome trilogy of which WBITB is no.2, Francis Cornish is to us simply a professor and art-accumulator who has died. After reading this book, though, we can never see him in the same way again. After an introductory chapter in which the three main characters from Rebel Angels are discussing their findings on Cornish's life while attempting to write his biography, (this chapter feels a little artificial, but who cares) we are then taken to a conversation between the lesser Zadkiel, a Recording Angel, and the Daimon Maimas, who turns out to have been Cornish's own allocated daimon - a guiding force chosen to make Cornish's life something out of the ordinary. These two characters pop up at intervals throughout the story, commenting on Cornish's life as it unfolds before us, giving us a 'top down' perspective, an objective and often funny commentary on what's going on. But the main novel is the story of Cornish's life, full of unforgettable characters, events and ideas, all carried out with Davies' usual breathtaking scholarship, faintly ironic humour, and down-to-earth style.

Among other things, this is a coming of age novel. I felt as if I came of age with Cornish, in that back-woods Canadian town of Blairlogie. Cornish does not simply grow up and discover as he does so some universal truth. Like a real person, a wealth of highly individual complexities surround his childhood, shaping him and making him the man he turns out to be (with no little unseen help from the Daimon Maimas). It's difficult to describe the individuality of this book, and of the character of Cornish. All I can say is it's all full of intricate truth and realism, but unlike genuine reality, it's never the least bit dull.

And here is the best part - Francis Cornish is an artist, and from a child, his discovery of art in different guises and individual perspectives is detailed and complicated, and has all the force and power of something real and visceral - intelligent but not the least bit 'academic'. It has what I'm learning is a signature touch of Davies' - where scholarship is presented not as something gained for reasons of glory, progress or self-improvement, but for the sheer unpretentious delight of beauty and discovery. I truly feel as though I discovered art with Francis Cornish, admittedly helped along by a serendipitous chance - I happened to begin reading Simon Schama's Rembrandt's Eyes at the same time. The two combined have been a wonderful journey.

I finished What's Bred in the Bone with a feeling that I'm not quite the same person I was when I began it. I'll let that stand for itself in my final praise of this novel, and will only add the practical details - that this is second in a trilogy, but could stand on its own pretty well. But why would you read it alone when there are two other books just as good to read with it? ( )
18 vote ChocolateMuse | Aug 8, 2011 |
One of the books I periodically re-read. I have really enjoyed it. And I got it for $0.50 at a rummage sale, snapped it up before Cousin Peder could. I have tried some of his other books and not made it through them. This is a keeper. ( )
  Mwsberg | Apr 2, 2010 |
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"The novel is certainly not a 'bad copy' of anything; its intricate conception and intelligence are impressive on their own terms. But those terms also prevent the book from being the original it might have been. "
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Larry McCaffery (Dec 15, 1985)
 
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"What's bred in the bone will not out of the flesh." / English proverb from the Latin, 1290
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"The book must be dropped."
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[The PreRaphaelites] were full upand slopping over with Art, but they hadn't troubled to master Craft. Result: they couldn't carry out their ideas to their own satisfaction.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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To most people, Francis was the eccentric, artistic son of a wealthy family. Others knew him as an art expert, a secret intelligence agent, and a wealthy man shrouded in mystery.

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